Rare Jewels

Trophy bass aren’t plentiful on any lake, but anglers who employ these techniques greatly improve their odds of landing one for the wall.

While deer hunting out of a tree stand last year, I learned the productivity for pondering the deep mysteries of life when you’re high above the earth, close to God and free to meditate away from ringing telephones, loud music and people with nothing to do but interrupt your work. On that particular day, I pondered how to find the biggest bass in any lake, a mystery I’ve thought about often.

Never before having located the biggest bass in any lake, I decided that to find that fish, I’d use the same strategies a detective would utilize to find a missing person.

He would begin by interviewing everyone who knew that person intimately and gather information from the people who’d spent the most time with him.

As the detective interviewed and talked to those who knew the missing person best, a pattern of the person’s habits and haunts would become evident.

If through interviewing the ones who knew him best the detective discovered hideouts that he had retreated to in the past to dodge danger or elude pursuit, then the investigator reasonably could assume he’d use one of these sanctuaries again.

I decided the tactic I would employ to find the biggest bass in any Louisiana lake would follow these same guidelines.

What the bass want

I first contacted Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., one of the strongest names on the professional bass-fishing circuits for many years, who won two Bassmasters Classics and the title of Angler-of-the-Year, about how to find the biggest bass in any lake.

In the early summer of 2005, VanDam once again proved why he’d won titles of the best of the best before. He went home with $106,000 from a tournament on Lake Louisville just outside of Dallas.

“I had confidence in slow-rolling the spinnerbait in the timber and pockets of the lake, and had caught some fish on the spinnerbait,” VanDam says. “What I learned from fishing the spinnerbait was that the only way the fish would take the bait was to reel it in slowly. The water was pretty stained, and apparently the bass wanted a very slow presentation.

Because of the large number of shad in the area, the bass really didn’t want to chase the spinnerbait when there were so many other baits available. I was catching non-keepers on up to about 3-pound bass on the 1/2-ounce double-willowleaf spinnerbait.

“Since most of the Top 50 anglers specialized in fishing fast, I decided that my best chance to win this tournament would be to fish extremely slowly on the riprap down by the dam with a finesse worm, because regardless of how many boats were fishing this same area, I had confidence that I could catch fish by using this tactic and this worm.

I studied the bass to know what they wanted. I caught a lot of fish that day, and more importantly I learned that by fishing really slowly I could make the bass bite in the dirty water.

“I’m not known as a slow fisherman, but on this lake during this day, slow, steady shaking of the bait and letting it walk down the rocks was what was required to make the bass bite. I broke the lake record with an 11-pound, 13-ounce bass that I caught on a Strike King 3X finesse worm with a shaky head.

“To land a big bass, don’t get into a hurry.”

Avoid pressured areas

Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo., four-time Bassmasters Classic winner and Angler-of-the-Year, has dominated bass fishing for more than two decades.

Clunn has developed a sixth sense of finding bass that combined with his years of fishing experience make him an expert in the ways of bass.

“I have found that on any lake there are pressure zones created by boat traffic and fishing pressure that big bass avoid — just like trophy deer keep away from areas where the hunting pressure is the heaviest,” Clunn says. “The bass that will react quickest to fishing pressure or boat traffic are the larger fish, particularly bass weighing 8 pounds or more, because they have learned to survive by dodging human pressure and have become the biggest fish in a lake.

“An angler must study a lake and the fishermen and the baits they most often use to pinpoint the high-pressure regions. Then you’ll know the target sites where many sportsmen are fishing and the depths of water that most of their baits are covering.

“For instance, visible targets like points that look as though they will hold bass, trees and bushes close to shore are places any bass fisherman will point out and say, ‘I bet bass are there.’

“However, I search for areas to locate big bass in like an isolated stump well off the bank that you only can find by crashing a crankbait into it. Also, I look for a segment of water where baits are not being run through.

“If most anglers are fishing deep-diving crankbaits or plastic worms, which cover the bottom story of water, and buzz baits and topwater lures, which run along the surface, I will fish a medium-diving crankbait, which passes through the middle story of water that’s not getting any pressure – which should be where the big bass are holding.

“One of the reasons the flipping technique produces so many big bass is even though a zone receives a lot of fishing pressure, a big bass can find sanctuary in that same region in the thick cover. A bass may be holding so tight in the cover that the only way to catch the fish is to flip a bait through the densest part of the cover, where the bass hasn’t seen any lures.”

With Clunn’s information, we can mark a lake map and omit the pressure zones, where large bass don’t stay. By eliminating parts of a lake, anglers shrink the areas they’ll have to search for large bass.

Why and why not

As I talked to Clunn, I remembered I began thinking about catching big bass while in a tree stand hunting trophy deer, and Clunn explained that big bass and trophy bucks are very similar in their habits.

A sportsman must search for trophy deer in overlooked areas where a deer feels very little hunting pressure, and must approach the animal with the utmost caution and care so he won’t spook the deer — exactly the formula proposed by Clunn to take the biggest bass in a lake.

Just like a detective might consult human behavioral scientists to determine what a particular personality type might do under stress and pressure, I talked with a fisheries scientist Ken Cook of Meers, Okla., the former Megabucks winner and Bassmasters Classic champion, who regularly searches for big bass as a professional angler.

I knew Cook could tell me why large bass do what they do and base that information on sound, scientific principles.

“Big bass like their solitude,” Cook said. “By the time a bass reaches its trophy potential, more than likely it has had some negative experiences with anglers. Therefore the fish has learned how to avoid fishermen.

“Big bass prefer to hold where there’s some type of overhead cover, which either can be heavy structure or deep water. A big bass becomes very territorial if it finds a piece of heavy cover that it can stay in without being harassed — often spending much of the day in that cover while relatively inactive.

“The only way to catch a large bass like this is to put a bait close to the bass that’s easy for it to take. Even though the fish is a large bass, it’s still an opportunistic predator that will attack any bait that passes close by.

“If the big bass isn’t in heavy cover, generally the fish will go to deep water. Bass that are deep are very hard to catch since an angler can’t place his lure as accurately in deep water because he can’t see the structure where the fish is holding.

“Accurate lure presentation can trigger an instinctive bite from a large bass that may not want to feed. But most fishermen aren’t as proficient with lures in deep water as they are in shallow water.”

ID underfished areas

Denny Brauer, former BASS angler-of-the-year, winner of the Megabucks tournament and Bassmasters Classic, believes that anglers must get off the beaten path to significantly up their odds of catching a hawg.

“To catch a big bass, I’ve got to get my boat into an area where no one else will consider putting his boat,” he said. “I must cast my lure into a spot that only a nut will try and fish, because those regions are where you’ll find big bass.

“I’ve jumped beaver dams with my boat to get into protected water where no one else can fish. I’ve run my boat across sandbars at the mouths of creeks where the sheer force of the motor has pushed the boat across what is almost dry land.

“If you can reach an area no one else fishes, you may discover that big bass of a lifetime.

“And don’t be afraid to lose some baits. The type of cover you must work a lure through to take big bass may cause you to lose lures. To catch a lunker, a trophy angler must out-fish all the other anglers who are trying to take that same bass.”

Although most anglers agree that big bass often hold in out-of-the-way, hard-to-get-to places, unlikely spots like swimming areas also may home big bass. Because of the splashing and carrying on in a swimming area, most fishermen never cast their lures around beaches or roped-off swimming sites when they’re not in use by bathers.

Some bassers have experienced great success fishing around boat ramps, because many Louisiana lakes have at least one tournament each weekend.

Anglers bring the big bass they’ve caught into the weigh-in site and then release them at the boat ramp and nearby boat docks.

For instance, Clunn caught a large stringer of bass (75 pounds, 9 ounces) in 1984 on the Arkansas River from a small, obscure ledge not far from the boat ramp where the anglers put in their boats.

George Cochran of Hot Springs, Ark., winner of two Bassmasters Classics, caught his winning stringer of bass close to the put-in place in the Ohio River Classic near Louisville, Ky., although most of the other anglers participating traveled 200 miles per day to reach prime fishing areas and spent only two or three hours fishing each day.

You can also look for big bass in ponds nobody fishes. I once caught an 8-pound largemouth out of a gravel pit next to a major highway thousands of anglers passed each day traveling to a nearby lake.

A location so public that no one thinks to fish there, including golf course ponds, which receive little or no fishing pressure, may home trophy bass.

Slow with big lures

Since I had narrowed-down my search pattern as to where a big bass should live, like any investigator, I next needed to know how to confront or capture the one I sought.

I consider Bassmasters Classic winner Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., one of the best anglers in the nation on determining what will make a big bass bite.

“Two of the reasons fishermen don’t catch more trophy bass is they either fish too fast or don’t fish with large-enough lures,” Nixon said. “A trophy-bass angler must be willing to not catch a bass at all in a day, because he’s using tactics and baits to take only big bass. Big bass like large lures presented slowly, and those big baits cull large numbers of fun-catching, smaller-sized bass.

“Slow, deliberate angling for the biggest bass in any lake isn’t as exciting to most anglers as fishing fast and covering lots of water.”

After developing a system to search for and possibly take the biggest bass in any lake, I realized that to implement the system I would have to forfeit some of the sheer fun that bass fishing for all sizes of bass would provide.

I decided that for me personally, I’d have more fun catching and releasing numbers of bass in a day rather than dedicating my fishing to taking one large bass that I’d had to give up so much recreational time to catch.

However, if you want to take a trophy bass in Louisiana or anywhere else, you now know how to find and catch it by fishing large lures slowly in hard-to-fish places or angling the spots where no one believes bass live.